Steve Klopp is trapped at the intersection of Public Health & Public Safety

We’ve known Steve Klopp for about a year and know his family and history. He’s a gentle, educated, and articulate man with Schizoaffective Disorder who’s lived in Portland off and on for almost a decade. For most of that time he has been homeless and gone without medical treatment.

Unfortunately Steve’s is not an exceptional situation in Portland. What is exceptional is that Multnomah County’s legal system – police, courts, jail, and parole – have had continuous opportunities to help Steve access medical treatment. He’s chronically ill, his illness makes it impossible for him to engage in treatment on his own, he’s eligible for services, and he’s even enrolled in services, has a medical provider willing and able to help him.

So why does the community need to help Steve? Three reasons.

One, asking Steve Klopp to voluntarily engage in medical treatment is exactly like asking a blind person to read a book, or a paralyzed person to climb stairs. His brain is disorganized to the point he’s unable to recognize the urgent need for treatment. The measure of that is he’s been arrested over 30 times in the metro area, mostly for minor nuisance crimes entirely a result of untreated his illness. He’s not against medical treatment and willingly takes medical when offered, but is unable to remember to take it when on his own.

Two, as we know from numerable sources, the criminal justice system is not designed to solve mental illness. Police officers arrest Steve, largely because they want him to get help and think the jail nurses, judges or parole system have the tools or capacity to help him. He cycles through those short-term services without improvement. He has a chronic illness – he doesn’t get better in a few days. And the system is tested for failure. Steve has been arrested over 30 times without engaging in services. Serial arrest is not a solution for Steve.

Three, it’s the humane thing to do. Multnomah County health department staff know how to effectively help Steve Klopp. They just don’t do it. They don’t have the internal rules and procedures to help the 1000 some people, like Steve, who have a thought disorder which disables them from seeking treatment. They know this problem well – as does everyone who visits our inner city – and don’t do it.

Steve is trapped at the intersection of public health and public safety. The solution is cooperation and collaboration between these two complex and self-absorbed systems. That requires insightful leadership, which Multnomah County doesn’t have.

UPDATE – Our point above was proven in October 2017 when Multnomah County Judge Cheryl Albrecht sentenced Klopp, represented by Metropolitan Public Defenders, to 18 months in prison and 3 years of probation. Klopp is eligible for a guilty except for insanity defense, immediate hospitalization for his illness, skilled medical treatment, and long-term community monitoring to keep him out of the criminal justice system. Klopp is exactly who the Psychiatric Security Review Board was designed to help. But this time his advisers and the state helped the cycle of insanity continue.

Man who spat at Indian woman on MAX train headed to prison

Oregonian, October 13, 2017

A 35-year homeless man who spat at and yelled racist insults at a 22-year-old Portland State University graduate and her parents who were visiting from India was sentenced to 1.5 years in prison Thursday.

The judge also ordered Steven Joseph Klopp to write a letter of apology to the woman and her parents.

Multnomah County Circuit Judge Cheryl Albrecht sentenced Klopp to three years of probation for the confrontation, but he will head to prison because the June 15 attack violated his probation for an earlier crime — throwing a garbage can at a TriMet bus in September 2016.

READ MORE of this story at Man who spat at Indian woman on MAX train headed to prison

Mother: Man who spit on Indian woman is mentally ill

Klopp’s mother says he suffers from mental illness – July 21, 2017

A 36-year-old homeless man who claimed to be an Army veteran is accused of spitting at a Portland State University student’s mother, who was visiting from India.

The PSU student was riding the MAX Green line on June 15 with her parents when Steven J. Klopp confronted them and began making racial slurs about their nationality, officials said.

“Her and her parents were about to board a MAX train when this person came on the train making disparaging remarks about their nationality, that they should go back to their country. Very disturbing. We at PSU pride ourselves on keeping safe, but unfortunately it happens across the country,” PSU Campus Police Sgt. Willie Halliburton said.

The 35-year-old is charged with intimidation and harassment and in court Friday he said, “I’m the nicest person to ever have been behind jail in American history.”

Klopp’s mother, who lives in Austin, Texas, told KOIN 6 News over the phone that her son is not racist but suffers from mental illness.

“He’s a very sweet, kind gentle person…when he’s on his medication,” Susan Klopp said. “I’m sorry that this incident happened. That is not at all the way my son truly feels but when someone has a mental illness their thinking is skewed.”

Susan Klopp said her son has a long history of mental illness, including bi-polar disorder. She said he comes from a good home and a loving family but his life has been complicated and consumed by outbursts, hardship and homelessness.

“Anything that you’re seeing, you’re seeing the illness,” she said.

Susan has been a mental health advocate for years and has been trying to help her son but his homelessness makes it hard to keep track of his whereabouts and state of mind.

“He has these delusions that if he goes someplace else, that everything will be OK or it’ll all be different but he doesn’t understand that his problems are going with him,” Klopp said.

She said she isn’t making excuses for her son’s behavior and actions. She just wants people to know how mental illnesses can consume the core beliefs of someone like her son.

“What those people saw on that train was the illness,” she said. “And I’m sorry about that.”

PSU graduate, target of racial slurs with parents on MAX, relieved over suspect’s arrest

Oregonian – 7/21/2017

A recent Portland State University graduate said she is relieved that a suspect has been arrested after her family was subjected to racial slurs and taunts on a MAX train a month ago.

The woman said in an interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive that she and her parents are still shaken by the incident in which her mother was also spat upon while riding the train.

The 22-year-old said she and her parents had gotten on a MAX Green Line train on June 15 near Southwest 5th Avenue and Jackson Street. A man with a blue guitar boarded soon after and started yelling at them to get out of the United States, she said during a phone interview Friday afternoon. The woman’s parents were visiting Portland from India to watch her graduate.

The woman said the family initially ignored the man but he continued yelling and hurling slurs. She said he appeared to be directing his tirade at her mother and at one point spat on her dress. Authorities have not identified the victims in this case. The woman requested anonymity because she fears potential backlash.

Steven Klopp said after his arrest that he didn’t know the alleged victim, who he described as a “foreign Indian,” according to records.

In her interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive, the woman said three other people were on the MAX car but none intervened. The incident occurred a little more than two weeks after three men were stabbed on a MAX train after a knife-wielding man allegedly verbally assaulted two young women, one of whom was wearing a hijab. That incident, in which two of the men who tried to help died, also occurred on the MAX Green Line.

“My mom was freaking out. I’m the only one of us who speaks English, but it’s clear that he is aggressive for no reason,” said the graduate, who was born in India and left to pursue a psychology degree at Portland State. “In my mind, I’m thinking about the people who were stabbed on the MAX, and I’m panicking, because I don’t know if this person has any weapons on him and planning to attack us.”

She said she stood between her mother and the stranger while he yelled. The woman said she called 911 and tried to contact the MAX train operator. Once the man noticed she was calling 911, he got upset and swore at her for contacting police, she said.

He took his guitar and left at a stop near Southwest 6th Avenue and Madison Street, she said. The woman, who estimated the incident lasted five to 10 minutes, said they encountered police officers when the MAX stopped at Pioneer Place.

The woman said she gave police a description of the man and his guitar, but they couldn’t find him.

The woman said she had never experienced such blatant racism nor had her parents. It was her father’s first time visiting the United States, and the encounter ruined a celebratory occasion, she said.

She had been looking forward to studying abroad since she was a young teen. She came to Portland partly because she liked the program Portland State had to offer and said she enjoyed her four years in the city. But the experience has her parents scared for her to remain in the United States. She’s looking for work and considering graduate school, but she said she is now thinking about leaving Portland.

“It was the first time I’ve ever had to call 911,” she said. “I’ve been trying to forget that day. It was the worst day of my life.”

The woman said she reported a complaint with TriMet but received no response after about a month. So she reported the encounter to the campus public safety office July 14.

According to a probable cause affidavit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, Portland State police Officer David Troppe met with the woman. He discovered another report of a man with a blue guitar yelling hours after the incident involving the woman’s family had taken place. Other officers had reported seeing a man with a blue guitar sleeping in the Urban Center Building.

Another Portland State police report identified a blue guitar-carrying man as Steven Klopp and reported he had been arrested on suspicion of trespassing two days after the incident on the MAX train.

According to the affidavit, Troppe on Thursday spotted Klopp along Southwest 10th Avenue and asked him if he recalled yelling and spitting at anyone while on the MAX Green Line a month ago. Klopp replied, “Yeah, there was some stupid Indian woman that was saying something that was so extreme that it was so insane,” according to the court papers.

Klopp said he “knew it was illegal to spit on someone, but that ‘she’ was the one who crossed the line,” the affidavit said. The woman told The Oregonian/OregonLive that neither she nor her family provoked the suspect.

Klopp was arrested and faces accusations of second-degree intimidation and harassment.

TriMet officials say they first learned of the incident Friday, according to spokeswoman Roberta Altstadt. She said TriMet hadn’t received any complaints regarding the encounter a month ago and so hadn’t archived surveillance footage from the train on that day. She said the footage wouldn’t be available now because it’s typically erased within two weeks.

“Allegations like this are very concerning, and it’s unfortunate something like this happened on our system,” Alstadt said. “I wish we had known to save the video.”

Alstadt said she would check again Monday to see if TriMet received a complaint from the woman. TriMet riders who feel threatened should call 911, contact their bus or MAX train operator, or another TriMet employee, Alstadt said.

Klopp’s criminal history includes 2016 convictions for criminal mischief, harassment and theft in 2014, Oregon court records show. He also has misdemeanor convictions in California and Washington.

Klopp’s mother says her son’s outburst on the MAX was a result of his mental health issues, namely schizoaffective disorder.

Susan Klopp, who lives with her husband and family in Austin, Texas, said Steven has been bouncing between her home and Portland, where his twin brother lives, for five years. She said he was caught in a cycle of getting help and medication, forgetting to take it, suffering a breakdown and ending up homeless and unstable again.

“When he’s on his medication and stabilized, he does well,” she said. “He can be a productive member of society.”

Susan said her son studied fine arts for three years in college and paints beautifully. “I just want people to see the person behind the illness,” she said. “When he’s stable he is kind, sweet, loving and shy. Not at all what people have seen of him.”

While Steven should have gotten counseling and help under careful monitoring, he’s been living on the streets and stealing food to survive, Susan said. Helping her son has been difficult, she said, because privacy laws don’t allow hospitals to inform Susan of her son’s condition unless he signs a release. Often, he forgot to sign it, she said

“We are just one family with a member in a broken mental health system that’s affecting people across the country,” Susan said. “I want to apologize to the (victims), we are extremely sorry. I’m sure they were terrified. But what happened was not a racist incident, it was a mental health one. I’m just sorry they caught the brunt of that.”

During an interview with Multnomah County court staff from the county jail, Klopp reported being a transient for four years and having been in the Portland area for a year and a half. He reported having prior military service in the Army and “just quit one day,” court documents said.

Man accused of yelling racial slurs at Indian family on MAX train – 7/21/2017

During his arraignment, 35-year-old Steven Klopp took a moment to speak his mind.

“I’m the nicest person who should have never been behind jail in American history,” said Klopp.

He defended himself after being accused of getting on the MAX at the Urban Center stop on the Portland State University campus and confronting an Indian student and her parents in mid-June. In court, he said he didn’t initiate it. But police have a different story.

“He started using swear words at them and telling them they should leave this country, go back to their country. During this altercation the man spat on the student’s mother,” said Sgt. Willie Halliburton, with PSU Campus Public Safety.

Halliburton said Klopp made comments about how he was a “great American” as he was being arrested near Southwest 10th Avenue and Market Street.

“We were able to arrest him yesterday and get him off the street because you know, who knows how this thing could have ended up if he continued this type of harassment,” said Halliburton.

But for some, the idea of getting harassed based on their race is all too common.

“Obviously there’s been a pretty big problem with race in our country and unfortunately in Portland too,” said Ajesh Saini.

While Saini doesn’t know the Indian woman involved, he can relate. He said he and his family are profiled on a daily basis.

“It’s always a fear you know. You never know what’s going to happen or when it’s going to happen,” he said.

In court documents, when investigators asked Klopp if he knew the victim, he said he didn’t know them and that the person was a “foreign Indian” who doesn’t speak English.

As for Klopp, his twin brother Matthew told KGW over the phone that what Klopp is accused of saying isn’t what he believes.

Both Klopp’s mother and brother say he’s been struggling with Schizoaffective Disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and bi-polar, for the last eight years. For the last five or so years, Klopp has lived on the streets in Portland. Klopp’s family said he’s gone in and out of jail and the hospital. They’ve tried endlessly to get him help, but nothing has worked.

The only thing that has worked is medication. But Klopp’s mother said he always ends up not taking it. Klopp has a criminal history in Multnomah County. It started when he first began living on the streets, in 2012. It’s composed of a laundry list of crimes, such as theft and criminal mischief. Now, it includes intimidation.

Klopp’s twin brother and mother said there needs to be a better system to handle people with mental health issues.

Klopp is expected back in court next week.